A major further short-term consequence of astronomical research is the encouragement of students to become interested in math and engineering. We don’t need a million more astronomers, but we could use a million more engineers. If students get interested in science and math and realize they can do it and be good at, who knows where that will lead to in terms of their career? More people being math/science literate and seeing those opportunities are just good for the general public. It would be better if we had more people moving into those areas. Unemployment for engineers is not high: there’s a shortage of qualified engineers. It’s because if you don’t make that commitment early in college, it’s gone unless you decide to go back and take five more years of school or whatever. Sophomore year of college is, in my opinion, the last year that you have to get on the calculus, chemistry, physics track . You should to do it when you arrive as a freshman; most who wind up being engineers and such knew it the day they arrived on campus. But you can’t really make that choice junior year.
People have a desire to understand the nature of the Universe that astronomy fulfills at a level that no other science, except maybe particle physics, addresses. I’m amazed. On flights, someone frequently will ask me what I do, and I’ll answer that I’m a professor of astrophysics. Then, they ask, “Do you work with the Hubble telescope?” My answer is, “Well yes, I work very closely with the Hubble telescope.” They ask me incredibly detailed questions about the latest Hubble result. They’re more up-to-date on what came out than I am! They’ll ask me about black holes and about dark energy. People are actually reading these articles, are interested in them, and have questions. I wind up having sometimes an hour-and-a-half conversation answering people’s questions about astronomy.
As you can tell, I am very optimistic about the future of astronomical research and the technology that helps us understand the Universe and our place in it.